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Top 10 Crazy things about living in Bosnia and Herzegovina
By: David Bailey
Top 10 Crazy things about living in Bosnia and Herzegovina.
I have opted to live (with my partner) in her home country of Bosnia and Herzegovina (BiH). I have been here (with a few short breaks away) since 1998. My grasp of the local language(s) is pitiful (sadly).
As far as I am aware, the number of expats here might not be as great as in other, let’s say, more attractive places.
BiH is beautiful, of that there is no doubt. The countryside views are stunning, with everything from amazing mountains, forests, rivers and valleys to the last ‘jungle’ in Europe.
But BiH doesn’t have the luxurious standards of say, somewhere like Dubai or Germany.
High unemployment, a rather weak rule of law and corruption of some-sort almost everywhere.
The people though (regardless of what you might read in the International press) are wonderfully hospitable.
Living in an almost totally dysfunctional and crazy country can be an uplifting experience.
So here is my Top 10 Crazy things (well I think they’re crazy) about living in Bosnia and Herzegovina. There’s no particular order of importance :)
1. It has a currency that can’t be exchanged anywhere else in the world.
The Bosnian Convertible Mark (BAM) can’t be bought outside the country. So when you arrive you exchange your existing currency or withdraw from the ATM (the hole in the wall). On leaving, its exchange back again or the only use is as an expensive souvenir when you get “back home”. Guests, friends and relatives find this very hard to understand. I somehow think that the Germans love having left their “Mark” here?
2. There are three official languages which are all really the same.
Before the terrible conflicts of the 1990’s the language here was known as Serbo-Croatian (with dialects). Today that same language is now either Serbian, Croatian or Bosnian (dependant on your ethnic background). It can be a bit of a minefield (excuse the pun) and can cause stress sometimes, but as a foreigner, all you are told if a perceived mistake is made is “don’t worry, its the same language, we all understand each other`’. Proof of the pudding is that the same health warning appears three times on the same cigarette pack!
3. it has the last remaining jungle in Europe at Perućica.
It may not be huge being some 6 kilometres long and 1–3 kilometres wide, but with an area of 1,400 hectares, the Perućica forest has many trees that are 300 years old, and the forest's vintage is stated to be 20,000 years. In some places the forest growth is almost impregnable. I don’t need to go to Borneo for the full jungle experience :)
4. Most people live off the black economy.
It’s so hard for me at times to still get used to the “cash culture” that is BiH. Yes there are credit and debit cards, but all good deals are done with cash. right? People here still are wary of putting all their money in banks, seeing most banks were destroyed in the conflicts and they lost everything. No bank anymore? Then no one to give your money back :(
The people of BiH take the “how much for cash” mantra to a whole new level. For those who know the british TV comedy series “Only Fools and Horses”, well that’s how the people of BiH see good business practices. So much so that the show is still the most watched on local TV and the constant repeats are still enjoyed.
5. People drink hard liquor (Rakija) to start the day.
Although this is a rather large generalisation, the culture, particularly the rural areas, is still one of “Rakija (plum brandy) delivers health benefits”.
Rakija is also offered, with no consideration for time of day, to guests and visitors etc. To prove the point, I attended a high level meeting years ago, at around 10 in the morning, when a bottle was opened and we sat drinking during the meeting until midday. Weird. And people drove afterwards too !!
6. Births and Weddings are still celebrated with “celebratory gunfire”.
Weddings here are a BIG thing and I mean BIG. Huge convoys of cars with flags everywhere, blocking routes to the church and afterwards to the reception. Sometimes in excess of 500 people attend these. Although diminishing, the firing of AK-47 automatic rifles and other weapons in the air prior to and after the event, still is common place especially in rural areas. It seems that the logic of what goes up must come down is lost on everyone. Oh and to have given birth to a baby boy? Don’t think of how much ammunition might be required.
7. Smoking is almost an Olympic sport.
Laws are slowly coming into effect regarding smoking in public places but old habits die hard as they say and thats so true here. Smokers here SMOKE. I mean SMOKE! Like chain SMOKE. Cigarettes are still reasonably cheap, even by local standards. I swear that if smoking were an Olympic sport BiH could hold its own, even winning against competition from Russia!!!!!
8. Bribing officials is the rule not the exception.
if you want/need something baldy you can always give someone a little cash to ease the way so to speak (police, officials , doctors, lawyers etc). This system works though and everyone seems more or less happy with it.
9. Bosnia and Herzegovina might have a Pyramid.
Sounds weird I know, but certain archaeologists are claiming (and have been since 2008) that near Sarajevo there lies the “Pyramid of the Sun”.
To be honest I am totally lost on this. To me, the top of the hill in question has just got a point, but then again …..
10. And finally, the country still has some 200,000 mines to clear.
Not so much a crazy fact as a sad one. Having said that the country is safe to travel around as long as common sense prevails and local rules obeyed.
That’s my Top 10, from a country I actually love living in. Diverse, Quirky, Dysfunctional. Hospitable and above all FUN.
Please drop by for some Rakija?
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Contest Comments » There are 9 comments
Natalie wrote 9 years ago:
I love this blog! It's full of genuinly fascinating information about a country that not many people know about. There's so much more to Bosnia and its people than the war that happened there. Keep up the good work David!
Philippa Ratcliffe wrote 9 years ago:
Excellent post as always. I love reading David's expat blog on Bosnia. It's such a fascinating insight into the day to day cultural happenings in a typical north west Bosnian village. Reading David's blog you get to see the genuine warmth of the people and the beauty of a country that is often maligned & tainted with war. It will make you want to go and visit, I promise. Very much looking forward to Christmas installments.
Trish Geekie wrote 9 years ago:
Everything in this blog is TRUE. It really is a diverse country, eccentric but loveable, rather like the blogger! I would recommend anyone to visit Bosnia and the blogger offers great accomodation to do it from.
Rob Adamson wrote 9 years ago:
Witty, informative, well observed and written and oh so true! If i were a betting man, my money would be on this post.
Bruce wrote 9 years ago:
Dave's posts are always authentic and will tease travellers, who are more than just tourists, to visit Bosnia and Herzegovina. Easy Jet could link with Dave in order to boost their passenger numbers. Everything Dave posts is from the heart and factual! Keep it up Dave.
Tamara wrote 9 years ago:
Authentic facts about Bosnia and Herzegovina from "An Englishman in the Balkans!" To really experience these things and much more, you must leave here or visit as a "traveler." I find it very sad that people are still mentioning the war, as country has progressed so much and war ended up almost 20 years ago.
Kevin wrote 9 years ago:
There is so much too learn about the amazing region of the world - and with David behind that information you just know it will be spot on - planning to produce my MotorBikeTV tour in 2014, and make it available on DVD
Mark Watkins wrote 9 years ago:
Brilliant, informative posts that ALWAYS ring true. David Bailey's enthusiasm, knowledge and insights on Bosnia are second to none. Invaluable reading and honest, shared expertise and experience. Listen to, and read, this man!
Nikky wrote 9 years ago:
I enjoyed reading this post and realising different perspective on things that I am use to see in my everyday life. Well done! Again…Fun and interesting stories about ‘normal’ everyday life in Bosnia is a winning combination for easy reading that leads you to take a moment and think about the place and maybe even to start planning your trip to this area. Yes, that’s it – An Englishman in the Balkans – authentic, creative and fun blog about everyday life in Bosnia.